In the past, winter was not a great time to be in Cape Town. I remember as a child the frustration of being indoors for weeklong bouts of nothing but grey rain. But those days are long gone.
The steady creep of climate change has undoubtedly led to higher temperatures and longer dry spells. It is discouraging news for agriculture, but in the Cape our most perfect summer weather is now often in midwinter, with an approachable sun, deserted beaches and warm, windless June days in the winelands.
Winter is also the time when many of the Western Cape’s best restaurants offer spectacular low season deals. It’s a windfall for local gourmets and a steal for foreign tourists. One such establishment offering a sweet deal for winter is Terroir at the family-owned wine estate of Kleine Zalze in Stellenbosch.
Until the end of September, a Terroir winter plate includes a glass of Kleine Zalze vineyard selection wine for R195 a person. And if you don’t feel like driving home or you want a more leisurely break, for R650 a person you also get accommodation as well as a cellar tour, wine tasting and a bottle of wine.
Opened in 2004 by autodidact chef Michael Broughton, formerly executive chef at Mount Grace in the Magaliesberg, Terroir recently celebrated its decade of winning umpteen awards with the launch of Terroir – the Cookbook (Struik; 2014).
Despite its status and the luxury golf course on the grounds, the restaurant is an informal, comfortable, almost homely space as elegantly casual as the autumn leaf litter from the old oak trees that surround it. The menu is on a chalkboard and easel. When Munchkin, my dining partner, and I arrive, the fireplace still hasn’t been lit; more testament to our lingering summer.
European inspired cuisine
As the name of this restaurant suggests, the cuisine is European inspired and focused on regional ingredients. In Broughton’s words, the concept is to be “deceptively simple”; what he keeps off the plate is as important as what he places on it.
At the first sip of Kleine Zalze Vintage Brut 2010, which was released last year, I know I have found a new favourite méthode cap classique wine, full-bodied with strong mineral dryness, yet rich and almost creamy. Winemakers have always had to contend with a variable climate, hence the obsession with vintages, but 2010 was apparently a real test.
With the bubbly there are choux pastry cheese puffs and complimentary olives, black and fleshy green ones, with a round of butter and bread – I believe made with a special kind of yeast – and served on a custom tray. One can’t really refer to plates anymore or the crockery in restaurants; increasingly food arrives on slate tiles, irregular bits of drift wood, or eccentric ceramics. Munchkin rather enjoys such antics.
As if to contradict me, the starter arrives on a regular plate; one cold ball of buffalo mozzarella from Wellington and two more fried; smoked baby beets, one golden; a smidgen of blue cheese, just enough; scattered capers; brown butter and chive sauce; and glistening ruby grapefruit segments. The grapefruit in the sauce comes to dominate slightly; you want to have wine with this plate and a Kleine Zalze barrel-fermented chardonnay 2014 is a perfect solution.
The prawn risotto also arrives on neat white crockery, crowned with a whole prawn. The rice is slightly al dente. There are corn kernels, tomato, garlic, chilli, basil and an Americaine sauce – a prawn bisque with white wine and gruyere. Broughton has built a deserved reputation for sauces. I quickly pick up a subtle use of saffron too. The dish, together with a Kleine Zalze barrel-fermented chenin blanc, seems to speak to autumn; somewhere between the refreshing lightness summer craves and the hearty comfort winter needs.
For mains, I choose the pan-seared tuna, though mine is cooked white right through. This particular dish truly is a good example of the chef’s “deceptively simple” concept. Munchkin has a beautifully garnished fillet of kingklip with mussel ragu, served with a few mussels in open shells, white beans, green pea shoots and lentils.
Carnivores will love the dry-aged, generously portioned (280g) sirloin from grass-fed beef, with potatoes, salad and maître d’hôtel butter.
For dessert, there is classic Cognac rum baba, as cute as it sounds, with caramel banana butter, blueberry tie-dyed pineapple, marshmallow ice cream, chamomile jelly, a raspberry, pistachio crumbs and banana cream. And if that wasn’t enough, Munchkin opts to finish off with baked custard and macaroons, although the Muratie Amber Forever 2013 fortified wine from muscat d’Alexandrie paired with it would have been quite sufficient for a normal person.
Terroir deserves its reputation. The food is delicious, elegant, precisely practised and eye-catchingly presented. It may be fancy food fit for a king, but Broughton has kept it grounded and accessible, just as we’d expect from a restaurant called Terroir.
Terroir at Kleine Zalze, Die Boord, on the R44, Stellenbosch. Phone: 021 880 8167
This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian, 31 July 2015.